E. Faye Butler as Sister Juba, with Lamar Lofton as Shorty, in Pullman Porter Blues at Seattle Repertory Theatre, which comes to Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater November 23, 2012-January 6, 2013. Photo by Chris Bennion.

WHAT: Cheryl L. West’s Pullman Porter Blues (World premiere co-production with Seattle Seattle Repertory Theatre)

WHERE:  Kreeger Theater

WHEN: Nov. 23, 2012 to January 6, 2013

TICKETS AND INFORMATION:  Call 202-554-9066 (General) or 202-488-3300 (Sales) or check online at http://www.arenastage.org

SOUTHWEST NIGHT: December 26 at 12:00

Climb aboard the Panama Limited, bound from Chicago to New Orleans and rollick to the beat of Midwest blues as E. Faye Butler leads a cast singing a dozen classic blues tunes along with a live band.

Inspired by her grandfather’s tales of working on the postal trains as well as her first train ride as a young girl, playwright Cheryl West has re-created the story of the Pullman porters, one of the first occupations opened to freed blacks after the Civil War.

Pullman Porter Blues is a story about a family of three generations of porters who battle it out the night of June 22, 1937, the same night as the historic Joe Louis/James Braddock championship bout.

In his Autobiography, Langston Hughes described that night as one in which “No one else in the United States has ever had such an effect on Negro emotions – or on mine. I marched and cheered and yelled and cried, too.”

Hardships and heartaches, and with a hope for a better future – this is the stuff from which heroes are made. The unnamed porters and passengers on that train are part of history, just as “The Brown Bomber” in the boxing ring that night.


In conjunction with the show, a local event focuses on the history beyond the workers when cast members from Pullman Porter Blues, local historians and community organizers for Bread & Roses, a monthly Busboys and Poets labor series, delve into the monumental history of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters – the first African-American union established in America – and its lasting effect on transportation labor unions today. Event at Busboys and Poets 5th and K Street location on Tuesday, December 4, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. More information at  busboysandpoets.com/events/info/bread-roses.

The piano Bar at Arena Stage is open on December 19, for show tunes with host Joshua Morgan.

By Sheila Wickouski, a freelance arts and culture journalist and longtime resident of Southwest who has contributed work on history, theater, music, and the arts to area publications for more than twenty years.

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